‘Dracula Untold’ sucks more than blood



Dracula Untold

By Film Critic Josh Weitzel

For the last several years, Hollywood has oozed origin stories. Popular franchises such as “Star Trek,” “Batman” and “X-Men” released, films chronicling the characters backstories and how they became the iconic heroes they are known to be. Universal Studios is trying to cash in on the trend with “Dracula Untold,” on the beginnings of Vlad the Impaler himself. Although he eventually becomes the legendary horror icon Count Dracula, his story is told as an uninspired action movie with nothing new to offer moviegoers.  

The story takes place in Transylvania toward the end of the middle ages. Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) is a prince at odds with the Turkish Empire and the sultan named Mehmed (Dominic Cooper). To defeat the empire, Vlad seeks a master vampire (Charles Dance) who gives him powers beyond his wildest imagination. However, the power comes at a price: It will last for three days, and if Vlad can resist his thirst for human blood, he will become mortal again. If not, he will be cursed and have his powers for eternity. With his newly acquired skills, Vlad sets out to defeat the Turkish Empire and save his family.

The movie’s reasoning for the war is thin and followed with poorly orchestrated plot points. Despite historical evidence to the contrary, the Turkish army does not have a good reason to attack the province. Mehmed demands a tribute of silver and sacrifice from the whole of Transylvania: 1,000 young boys to be given over to serve in the Turkish army. Vlad hands over the silver but declines to sacrifice the children, and a war ensues following the disagreement. Conveniently, Vlad also becomes an expert at using his ill-gotten powers almost instantly. 

The action is the most creative part of the film. Vlad is already an established warrior and is quick to use his powers to combat the Turkish army. Aside from super strength and agility, Vlad can transform into a huge swarm of bats and fly at great speeds. The filmmakers play with Vlad’s range of powers in clever ways. He strikes an enemy, then transforms into a swarm to move around another, instantly returning to human form and striking them down. Late in the film, he remotely controls a swarm of bats so massive he takes out a wide swathe of the Turkish troops. The stunning visual effects help redeem the absurdly unrealistic battle situations.  

However, special effects are not enough to hold the film together. Many of the secondary characters are not fully developed. Mehmed hardly has any place in the story other than to be the cardboard cutout villain for Vlad to annihilate. There seems to be few motivations for his actions. Vlad’s wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) does little to move the story forward despite having more screen time than Mehmed. Their relationship is a major but tangential part of the story.  

Although the film is meant to be an origin story, there is little reason to stay invested in Vlad’s journey. Origin stories hinge upon viewers’ investment in the protagonist, and yet Vlad fails to progress. He is purely a soldier who aims to kill the enemy at any cost instead of being the monster he is made out to be. The tale falls far short of being a prelude and instead adds more murk to the already-convoluted tale of Dracula. Vlad the Impaler was historically a madman and a murderer who is now depicted as a hero throughout the entire film. Although the film sets up sequels with an epilogue, there is nothing to suggest he will eventually become an antagonist in the future. 

The dialogue is comically lifeless and not clever or original in any conceivable way. Like many films set in medieval times, characters attempt to generalize about things like love, war and death in simplistic and cliche terms. Phrases like, “Men do not fear swords, they fear monsters,” and, “There is always a price for power,” are liberally littered throughout the film. It is painfully obvious that first-time director Gary Shore was not too concerned with the voice of   his characters. 

“Dracula Untold” is a weak effort to shed light on the horror icon’s origins. This film may not suck your blood, but it will suck away an hour and a half of your life.